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If you are in a hurry and want to just find out what the best vocal compressor is, then I highly recommend the FMR RNLA Audio Compressor
Are you struggling to get your audio recordings to sound like the professionals?
You feel like your audio is definitely lacking in that secret sauce that makes it sound so much better?
Well...allow me to tell you that what you need is a compressor.
The simple truth is that VST plugins and all your software plugins do not cut it anymore if you are looking to get that professional audio quality.
And if you are serious about recording then you definitely need to get a very audio compressor.
An external compressor will definitely take your audio quality from “meh” to awesome instantly.
Now before you run out and buy the first audio compressor that you find, there are some things you need to be aware of.
First there are different types of compressors but for this article we will be looking at external compressors and not software or VST plugins
In this article we will be looking at the top 5 best vocal compressors, things to consider before you make a purchase and how to get the best from your latest purchase.
What is an audio compressor and what does it do?
To fully understand what an audio compressor is and what it does lemme give you a simple illustration.
When you record audio, it comes out as a digital or electric signal.
This signal is a little “rough” and needs to be mixed and treated before it comes out as a nice sounding audio.
What an audio compressor (also called a limiter or a gate) does is that it acts on this audio signal and balances the volume of the total audio.
So instead of having an audio file where some parts are loud and others low, it makes everything even and smooth.
Here are some advantages of using an audio compressor when recording
It helps you avoid clipping when recording
It makes live recording especially reel to reel or using a multitrack recorder so much easier
It makes hands on mixing especially without plugins very stress free
It looks amazing both on stage and in your studio
What is the difference between a hardware compressor and software plugin
The simple truth is that technology has made both of them so much advanced that it is really hard to say which is better.
It is more a matter of preference and which one you are comfortable working with.
The only issue with software plugins is that you can’t apply them before they pass into your DAW.
As such you cannot reduce or prevent clipping from occurring.
Another thing is that when using software plugins you can easily apply it to as many channels as possible whereas a hardware compressors requires you to use a separate channel each time which can get expensive.
Like i said earlier, it is all a matter of personal preference and what you are comfortable using.
Things to consider before you make a purchase
1. What type of compressor do you need
Basically there are 4 types of hardware compressors which you can get.
And each one has a special purpose that it can be used for
There is the desktop compressor which can be placed on a desktop in your studio.
There is the rackmount which can be placed and screwed on a rack
There is the 500 series and channel strips which are more advanced models
Whichever one you choose is all a matter of personal choice.
2. How durable is it?
You want to make sure you get something that is durable and lasts for a long time.
Simply because when you use a compressor in a studio, most times it starts to heat up and can get very hot.
If it is not a good product, this might cause some damage to it.
Basically you want to get something that has an inbuilt fan to help cool the unit and bring the temperature down.
Our Top 5 Best Vocal Compressor
1.FMR Audio RNLA 7239 Stereo Compressor
This is an entry level audio compressor and it is ideal for beginners who want to test the waters before opting for something more expensive.
It is one very good audio compressor that you can get under the 500 bucks range.
It has full parametric controls that helps bring out the best in your audio or recordings.
It has a wide dynamic range making it very good for limiting and reducing all forms of clipping.
It has very nice red knobs that are very easy to handle and control.
It is built in a tough aluminium casing that makes it very durable and sturdy
It has unbalanced inputs that makes it very easy to connect other equipments and a mixer if needed.
2. DBX 160A Compressor / Limiter
This is an audio compressor that is for slightly advanced audio engineers.
It has a unique audio compression technology that gives your audio files a warm sound after compressing.
It has a precision dual LED display that helps you monitor your inputs and ensures that you apply the right settings
It has over 60 DB of gain reduction available making it ideal for use on a wide range of audio recordings.
It allows for negative compression which is one way for effectively dealing with distortion and clipping in your audio files.
3. ART Pro-VLA II Audio Compressor
The ART Pro audio compressor is an awesome compressor that adds nice color to your audio files.
It is a 2 channel tube based audio compressor that delivers professional audio when used.
It combines a single analog signal path with high quality tube and opto compression to give your audio files that professional touch that it needs.
It has an LED backlit input that makes setting your options and controls very easy and smooth
It has XLR and ¼ inch inputs for easy hooking up of other gear.
It has an inbuilt toroidal transformer that helps to reduce electrical and mechanical hum
4. Warm Audio WA76 Audio Compressor
This is a modern reproduction of one of the greatest audio compressors ever made.
Made by Warm Audio, a fairly recent company, this compressor beings warmth to your audio files.
It comes with specialized buttons and knobs that help you easily add warm color to your audio.
If you are someone that likes adding warmth and color to your mixes then you will definitely love this.
It comes housed in a sturdy and durable design that ensures it does not get damaged easily.
It is very quiet when being used and does not interfere with the audio recording.
5. DBX 166xs Compressor/Limiter Gate
This is a low priced 2 channel compressor that is ideal for both vocals and instruments.
It helps to smoothen uneven levels in vocals, fatten drums and tighten your mixes.
It has a unique new gate timing algorithms that helps to give your audio a nice and smooth feel.
It has a great sounding dynamic controls that helps you apply the required settings when being used.
It has separate LED displays for applying gain and threshold which makes it very easy to operate.
It can operate in both mono and stereo modes which gives you a lot of options
It comes with both XLR and ¼ TRS inputs/ outputs for hooking up as many extra gear as you need.
How to connect your compressor to the rest of your gear
There are a couple of ways that you can go about hooking up your audio compressor to the rest of your gear
- First if you have a separate amplifier, then you take the output signal from the preamp to the compressor and then using a TRS cable connect it to an EQ machine, or an audio interface
- If you have an audio interface with a preamp that connects directly to your converters, then take the insert and using a TRS cable connect the compressor to your preamp.
What is the best vocal compression setting?
Everybody has his or her own go to settings for vocal compression.
Here is mine...
- Ratio: 1.5:1.
- Attack Time: 15ms (but up to 30ms for more punch)
- Release Time: 40ms.
- Threshold: -24dB.
- Gain Reduction: 2-3dB.
- Knee: Soft.
- Makeup Gain: 2dB.
To read more about audio compression, you can check out this article here.
What is vocal compression?
Vocal compression is simply the process of applying an EQ filter to your audio to the make the volume more consistent overall.
So in a situation where you find your self singing or rapping and your words are louder than the others, a simple compressing setting will make for a less drastic volume difference between the loud parts and the quiet parts.
Why do you compress vocals?
- To reduce the effects volume inconsistencies in your audio recordings
- To give your audio recordings more punch and clarity
How do you compress background vocals?
- Create a BGV master bus.
- Copy over the plugins from your main vocal and check for any issues.
- Reverse the boosts and cuts from the main vocal's tonal EQ.
- Increase the compression until you are getting 5-10dB's of gain reduction.
- Pan your BGVs to create space for the main vocal.
How do you compress in parallel?
The “In Your Face” Compression Sound.
One way to set up an effective parallel compression chain is to use very heavy settings.
Turn the threshold down almost all the way (or turn the 'input' up a lot).
The idea is to find that spot where the very edge of the signal's sustain is where the compressor starts to release.
What is the difference between compressed and uncompressed audio files?
Uncompressed formats for example your CD audio, WAV and AIFF are simply the exact representations of the audio that was recorded, while compressed files are those that have passed through some modifications to keep the file size relatively small.
A vocal compressor is one of the best things to get for your home studio.
It will definitely make your recordings and mixing workflow so much better.
If there are any ones you feel we missed and should be mentioned here, please mention them in the comments below
All images sourced from Amazon.com